Jill Carter’s strategies for maintaining student wellbeing and progressing English learning in a home environment
Year 10 students are missing out on KS4 time and may do so for some time to come. Years 7–9 are also missing out on valuable class time. The content of the English curriculum is hefty even when students are being propelled through it by skilled teachers in regular lessons. At home, with parents who are not specialists and learning more independently than ever before, the challenge may seem daunting. But, in truth, this could be a magical opportunity.
Firstly, be reassured: exam boards and Ofqual will already be pondering the concept of ‘missed time’ and they will compensate fairly for this. One way or another, student outcomes will not be compromised by something which is beyond their control. These are peculiar times.
Schools are already providing virtual learning. The internet is flooded with videos and resources students can use. But what are the key areas of study for GCSE English and how could you work towards these at home in a way which could bolster well-being and build English muscles at the same time?
Many parents (and indeed students) often don’t know what the final exams actually consist of and look like. There are four exams: two Literature and two Language. You can search up past papers to get an idea of what is expected. The KS3 curriculum should be designed to support the GCSE syllabus so there’s no reason why KS3 students shouldn’t also tackle this kind of work.
Think about English Language as the ability to:
- understand what you read
- read between the lines
- analyse the language and structure of texts, both fiction and non-fiction
- write, both imaginatively (descriptions and stories) and transactionally (letters, articles, emails)
Think about English Literature as the ability to:
- understand the intention, the message and the big ideas contained in a text
- place texts in the contexts in which they were written
- interpret the choices made by the author in terms of language and structure
Language = word choices, sentence construction, punctuation and language techniques
Structure = how the text is designed to keep your attention: how it begins, how it unfolds, how it ends.
What you could be doing to further these skills:
Read widely – novels, short stories, blogs, articles, newspapers, magazines
- This is a great chance to build reading skills: research books you might want to read to get ideas about what you’d enjoy. Read for ten minutes a day and build this up as you get more engaged. Don’t try to read for hours on end – aim to enjoy it. Reading can take you on all sorts of wonderful journeys without even leaving the house. Begin to analyse what you are reading – why this word, this simile, this short sentence? Don’t overdo it – just start to notice these details.
- Park yourself in the garden, on the balcony or at the window and describe some small thing you see in detail – use a thesaurus to experiment with vocabulary. Or write a poem or rap about it. Develop it into a story.
- Subscribe (for free) to websites that help you build your vocabulary. Vocabulary.com is great for this.
- Write letters / emails on subjects you feel strongly about – write to your MP about climate change or about the way you are assessed.
- Start a blog.
- Write to friends and relatives with your news and views.
- Watch stand-up comedians and think about they use language and content.
- Get yourself a grammar workbook and enjoy working, at your own pace, through the exercises.
Support your knowledge of texts you have studied in class:
- Use this extra time to research the context of your studied texts. Don’t make notes – just take in what was happening at the time.
- Get hold of workbooks/study guides you can use to reinforce your knowledge of set books or poems. Sometimes older students are happy to pass on ones they didn’t have time to complete.
- Tell those you are isolated with about these texts. Explain the contexts, the key ideas and messages to them. Tell them about a character you like or dislike and discuss why you feel this way. Describe the setting to them.
For all areas of the GCSE syllabus, watch the best YouTube videos on these texts: I recommend Mr Salles and Mr Bruff. Whilst their focus is AQA for Language, their ideas about writing skills fit all boards as do their Literature videos.
Above all, don’t get stressed about what you ‘might be missing’. Let the government and the experts take care of this. Equally, don’t switch off completely – your mental health could suffer. Use this unexpected time productively if you can. Use the technologies you have to study with your friends.
Remember: English is about the magic and the power of language. And keep well.
Jill Carter is an Advanced Skills Teacher and former Leader of English and has been teaching for 23 years. Jill currently works part-time as an English teacher and GCSE Interventionist, as well as authoring for Oxford University Press.